The New York Rangers lost a game to the Minnesota Wild, but in doing so they got some answers to questions and raised some concerns. From the reaction to the loss, it’s like the team took a direct hit on an iceberg, but they are far from Titanic. They are still in second place in the Metropolitan Division and on pace to finish with 111 points. Only five other Ranger teams in post expansion era have been better.
They boast the fourth best power play in the NHL and the eighth best penalty kill. They have more comeback wins than any team in the league and are rarely out of a game. They haven’t had a lengthy slump and can win at home and on the road. Yes, there are issues, but they aren’t fatal.
The Georgiev problem
We can all agree that Alexandar Georgiev is having a tough time. Whether it is a lack of confidence brought about by a lack of playing time, he is not the goalie that he was when he played regularly. Besides his performance, there is another problem.
He is rapidly making himself untradeable. He is making $2.65 million this season and as a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, the Rangers need to make a qualifying offer at his current full base salary If they don’t make the offer, he becomes a free agent. That’s the problem.
31 goalies make more than Georgiev. 143 make less. Is he the 32nd best goalie in the NHL? No GM in his right mind would make a trade for Georgiev knowing that they would have to qualify him to the tune of $2.65 million next season, especially knowing that the Rangers won’t do it either. They will wait for the Rangers to let him become a free agent and then try to sign him for a bargain salary.
Similarly, if he is traded at the deadline, he would be seen as a short term rental. Is there a team willing to give up a draft choice for a goalie whose save percentage (.893) is 43rd of 47 goalies who have played in 20 games? Maybe a fifth or sixth rounder, but not the second or third rounder the Rangers thought they could get.
A bigger issue is the need for Georgiev to get his confidence back so he can be a viable alternative if the Rangers lose Shesterkin for any period of time. He has to clear waivers to go to Hartford and there is a chance another team would claim him. In hindsight, the Rangers should have sent him to Hartford on a conditioning assignment when he didn’t start a game for a month. Now, a conditioning assignment in the AHL could be seen as an attempt to avoid waivers.
There is a possibility that the team wanted to send him to Hartford during that extended break, but he refused as is his right. We will never know.
So, for the time being, the Rangers are stuck with a backup who is struggling and they have only two options. The first is to allow him to work out his issues in NHL games, something that hasn’t worked very well. The second is to risk him being claimed on waivers if they send him to Hartford to play a lot of games.
No matter what, the Rangers stand to lose Georgiev and get nothing in return.
The Panarin problem
Artemi Panarin may be leading the team in scoring, but he is not the Panarin we saw in his first two seasons. Playing on a line with a player who has scored one goal in 31 games is not good use of one of the most gifted players in the NHL. Ryan Strome is playing like Ryan Strome and that is acceptable, but not when they need a right wing on that line.
As a result, Panarin is forcing passes, making ill advised rushes and not shooting enough. The guy is 17th in the NHL in scoring and sixth in assists and he is having an off-year. That’s pretty amazing.
The bottom line is you don’t pay a player over $11 million a year and not give him the linemates to be successful.
Is there an answer? That’s the key question facing the team at the deadline. They need to get Kaapo Kakko back in the lineup and on the second line. If they click and Kakko can be the player that line needs, the Rangers won’t have to sacrifice young assets for a short term top six right wing rental like Rickard Rakell or Phil Kessel.
The defense problem
Is this a problem? The question is whether Patrik Nemeth is the defenseman to play regularly on the third pair. He didn’t have a great game against the Wild, finishing with a plus/minus of -2 and taking the game’s only penalty. True, he is the veteran presence on the blueline paired with a 20 year old rookie, but is he what the team needs for a deep playoff run?
At the very least, the Rangers have to decide if they need an upgrade over Nemeth or just need to add depth that would be an improvement over Libor Hajek and Jarred Tinordi. That decision will determine of they go after a Ben Chiarot, Mark Giordano or Calvin de Haan or just a depth seventh defenseman.
The bottom six problem
Gerard Gallant maintains that he doesn’t care who scores so long as the team plays well. Really? The Rangers cannot go into the playoffs as a team with a two-line offense. Even Tanner Glass scored in the playoffs against Montreal and the way the Rangers’ bottom six is playing, they cannot be counted for that kind of contribution.
Gallant has given Filip Chytil, Julien Gauthier, Greg McKegg and Dryden Hunt enough rope. AHL call-ups like Tim Gettinger, Morgan Barron and Jonny Brodzinski are energetic and work hard, but the offense is non-existent.
What it means is that the pipeline is bare, at least for this season. Getting Kakko back will help the top six and provide more depth for the bottom six, but the numbers are dreadful:
- Dryden Hunt has one goal in 31 games
- Julien Gauthier has one goal in 24 games
- Greg McKegg has one goal in 34 games
- Tim Gettinger hasn’t scored a goal in 15 NHL games
- Jonny Brodzinki has two goals in his last 28 NHL games.
- Morgan Barron has one goal in 18 NHL games
- Filip Chytil has three goals in 23 games
- Ryan Reaves has two goals in 50 games
The only bottom six player with any production is Barclay Goodrow who has 12 goals and 23 points in 56 games. Those are good numbers for a bottom six player, but he shouldn’t be the only one.
Drury has to do something. Colin Blackwell is a pending UFA and he has eight goals and 15 points in 35 games for Seattle. That’s as many as Hunt,Gauthier and McKegg combined. Let’s not even talk about Brett Howden who has eight goals and 19 points in 42 games for the Golden Knights. Clearly, Ron Francis knew something when he took Blackwell and passed on Gauthier whom he had drafted when he was running the Hurricanes.
The Kravtsov problem
Vitali Kravtsov scored two goals and added an assist in Traktor’s first round sweep in the KHL playoffs. But when it comes to Kravtsov, a cone of silence surrounds the Rangers and Madison Square Garden. He’s a non-entity and has no future with the team.
We’ve pointed out the fact that the MSG Network (owned by the Rangers’ parent company) neglected to show Kravtsov’s two goals in the playoffs in their MSG150 segment. They’ve shown highlights from pro leagues all over the world, from college, junior and womens’ leagues, but the Kravtsov goals didn’t make the cut.
Face it. He is NOT coming back to New York to play after the KHL playoffs are over. He has no future in New York and he will be traded. While we will never know what he could have done if he had stayed in North America, it’s clear at this point in the season that he is more skilled offensively than any player in the current bottom six outside of Goodrow.
It’s shameful. Top ten picks in two consecutive drafts and they have nothing to show for it at a time when they should be ready to make their mark in the NHL. Awful.
Hey, these are good problems to have
An optimist would say that these are good problems. That’s actually not a bad attitude to have.
- The Rangers issue in goal is with their back-up, they still have the best netminder in hockey.
- Their best player is having issues, yet is still leading the team in scoring and is near the top of the NHL scoring chart.
- The issue with the defense is to improve the third pair. They have a top four defense that rivals any team in the NHL and a 20-year-old in Braden Schneider who is developing into a top blueliner.
- They are getting little to no scoring from the bottom six and they still boast one of the best records in the NHL.
- Their best offensive prospect bolted from the team and destroyed his relationship with the team and the Rangers are still sitting in second place in the Division and will make the playoffs.
There are 12 days before the NHL Trade Deadline. Expect the dominoes to being to fall as we get closer. The Rangers’ record says that Chris Drury should not be pushing any panic buttons and we have to hope that he won’t despite the questions that come up after a game like the one they played last night.